Wednesday, October 19, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: TNT by Doug (Loup Durand & Pierre Rey) Masters

Oh, boy. Yeah, I got there. The TNT books are kinda mythic in the Men's Adventure circle. They are wild, dangerous, almost irresponsible adventure fiction with grotesqueness of Bosch painting, the antics of James Bond on acid wrapped up in a flat clinical style of writing. If you didn't know, the books originally were published in France in the 70s and written as Michael Borgia by the dynamic duo of Loup Durant and Pierre Rey. Both were authors before and after the TNT books and I think both of them had their tongues in their cheeks.

Somehow in the 80s Charter books decided to translate them an publish them for the over-stuffed Men's Adventure spinner racks. Bless 'em. I would have loved being a fly on the wall for that meeting, because the stuff in #1 alone is so wild that it's hard to believe that they considered it a smart move. But they did and again, bless 'em. There are 9 books in French and Charter got 7 of them out in English before cancelling the series. Now they are the book equivalent to a "cult movie" or maybe the "midnight movie" of Men's Adventure Paperbacks. They are for those with slightly (or more) perspectives on what they will accept from stories like this. TNT is all at once extremely adult, violent and downright disturbing in parts but at the same times it's goofily an over-the-top superhero-type story. Strange bedfellows. 

We start with an oft mentioned POV scene from a crab as it watches Anthony Nicolas Twin about to be caught in a nuclear explosion. TNT (Tony Nick Twin, get it?) is a super-reporter or something who after the explosion can see in the dark and bone chicks, like, really well. Then the evil CIA comes and blackmails him with TNT's mentally handicapped daughter to go kill a nut-job scientist at the end of a near-impenetrable death maze. Dante and the seven rings of hell, folks. There's some truly nasty shit in this part of the book, almost too much for me to keep reading but luckily the worst isn't really described and the flat tone of the writing sorta deludes the impact.

TNT is a non-character. The cover art aping "The Terminator" is kind of accurate as he's a stone-wall of a dude who says little and just sort of is let loose. He doesn't deliver one-liners or even seem to smile much, granted he's in a dire situation the entire time but don't expect a lively character. Yet I was interested in what was HAPPENING to him and his nonplused way of dealing with it. The narrative rockets forward and really keeps you guessing.

Book translations are a tricky thing. I wonder what was left on the "cutting room floor" or what was lost in the general French-zeitgeist when it was put into English. Was it funnier? Was it more extreme? Did TNT have a personality? I'll never know, unless I start my night-time subliminal lessons in French. I quite like the also French series about the police/spy guy San-Antonio (by San-Antonio) which was very popular and trashy with its own created language of "street slang." Now those are some books that you have dynamite your way into. Did TNT have some sort of lost hook? 

Loup Durand and Pierre Rey got together to do this series but also separately published other "straighter" tales of adventures, crimes and trashy airport novels. Quite a few of these were put out in English as well. The TNT books seemed to be the work of two guys trying the hardest to top each other in extremes. The TNT books must have been fairly popular since it even spawned a comic books version in France. The Doug Masters pseudonym is just hilarious to me. Some dude named Doug writing the wildest Men's Adventure books ever? Hard to buy.

So, I had already read this book. This go-around was the re-read to tackle the whole series since I just finally finished collecting all of them which is no easy feat for your wallet. I don't know if these could be republished today, there's certainly things in this book what would simply never fly today, so your only hope is finding the 80's editions. They are out there with regularity, just expensive price tags. I got lucky on quite a few of the individual titles but had to fork over some cash to complete it. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Tale of Two "Challengers of the Unknown" by Ron Goulart

After the passing of Ron Goulart a while back, I knew it wouldn't be too long before I pulled one of his books off the shelf and gave it a whirl. He's one of my go-to-guys for light, fun adventuring and mystery. Besides being a helluva readable wordsmith he was a great historian and his books on the pulps and collections are top-notch. "The Hardboiled Dicks" sparked my love of Black Mask and Dime Detective. Then you got his John Easy books, his entries in The Avenger books, mysteries starring Groucho Marx, the Vampirella's...I could go on and probably will.

Goulart was a long-time comics fan and historian. It just makes sense that he adapted comics into novels, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Captain America, the Hulk...and The Challengers of the Unknown. I stumbled upon the Challengers via Joseph Loeb and Tim Sales's "The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die" which is a FANTASTIC run on these pretty much forgotten characters. So, The Challengers are basically big monster/bad guy fighters who go out and be adventurers to help people after almost dying and living on "borrowed time." There's Prof, Rocky, Ace, Red and June. It's a clean set up for comic booky-adventures. The early comics were drawn by Jack Kirby and a little later the set-up might have helped the Fantastic Four along, too. The Challengers don't really have a big footstep in the DC universe anymore (or ever really) so it's kinda surprising that this got a paperback. I mean, where's Cave Carson's book?

Goulart was an old hat at this kind of derring-do when he tackled this book, and it shows. It's a well-oiled machine of a pulp novel. Little bit of mystery, little bit of globe-trotting, little love-stuff, action and banter. There's enough of a hook for each character for them to bicker at each other and enough bad guys for them to fight. Basically, they go down to down to South America to get tangled up with a swamp monster and a political hot-bed of armies, spies and presidents and it just zooms right along to a fairly wide conclusion. 

Look, none of this was taxing. It's a simple, clear-cut pulp novel. Doc Savage could have had this adventure, the weird late-60's Shadow could have had this adventure. Or Goulart's own take on The Avenger team. It's not going to change your life, but you'll have a brisk little thrill-ride for an hour or so and that's what you need sometime. Goulart was an unpretentious writer, just out to entertain you. It's probably not his best book (those John Easy books are hard to beat) but if you were wondering what a 70s TV movie of the Challengers of the Unknown might have been like, here ya go. And that hits a lot of the right buttons for me.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this review: I needed TWO COPIES of this slim Dell paperback to get it done. Why, you ask? Well, my first copy stopped with thirty pages to go and filled the page count with the previous thirty pages like it was VCR stuck on rewind. So, I had to wait for the mail to send me another copy for my resolution. It was like a proper Cliffhanger Serial. That's the first time I have ever had anything like that happen with a paperback and I was especially surprised that it was a Dell and not a Leisure or Manor book that did it. 

Anywho, Goulart is just one of those divisive writers. I love his work, or mileage may vary. But isn't that just the way it goes?